Last night Barack Obama, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gave speeches, and Ted Cruz published a rant in the Wall Street Journal. Only one of them is – or will likely ever be – the President of the United States. (More)
President Obama gave an excellent State of the Union Address last night. He was less pointed in his criticism of Republicans than many pundits had predicted, but he made his priorities crystal clear and called for “A Year of Action:”
Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: it is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.
Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.
That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.
In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.
He spoke about rising inequality and stalled upward mobility. Once again, he called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, but he went beyond that, congratulating the states, cities, and individual businesses who decided not to wait for Congress, and promising to act on his own:
In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.
President Obama also promised to beef up federal education programs, from pre-K to job training, to continue our shift to cleaner energy sources, and to push for Congress to extend unemployment benefits and businesses to recruit the long-term unemployed. He renewed his call for comprehensive immigration reform, proposed to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit to cover single adults without children, and offered a new personal retirement program:
Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.
Members of a Fox News focus group objected, saying they didn’t understand the proposal was but opposed it anyway. They captured the essence of the five – yes, five – Republican responses. The most memorable was not a speech, but Sen. Ted Cruz’s screed in the Wall Street Journal:
Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president’s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat. On Monday, Mr. Obama acted unilaterally to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contracts, the first of many executive actions the White House promised would be a theme of his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
[I]t is the Obama precedent that is opening the door for future lawlessness. As Montesquieu knew, an imperial presidency threatens the liberty of every citizen. Because when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president.
In fact President Obama has signed fewer executive orders than any president since Grover Cleveland, but mere facts are irrelevant to Sen. Cruz. Nor did mere facts stop the National Review’s John Fund from howling: “The Constitution didn’t envision such sweeping unilateral exercises of power within a government of divided powers.”
At least some members of Congress recognize the president’s legitimacy. After President Obama threatened to veto new sanctions against Iran, to give diplomacy time to work, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) publicly withdrew his sponsorship of the Senate sanctions bill.
Others, not so much. After President Obama honored Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who was gravely wounded in Afghanistan, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KA) tweeted:
Obama politicizes the military to end his speech. Totally expected, Mr. President. #SOTU
— Cong. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) January 29, 2014
He then defended that disrespect, telling MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that President Obama had “campaigned against the military” by “promising to bring them home.”
President Obama called for “A Year of Action,” and he may get it. But he’ll also get yet another year of objection.